Managing TV When You’re Watching a Baby

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May 31st, a lot of things changed for me. That’s the day I had my son. And while I could go on and on about the many things that this little man has brought into my life and all the ways he’s changed it, this is a TV blog. I’m going to focus on what may be considered one of the most trivial of issues: watching TV.

In my defense, I am (or was, or try to be) a TV blogger. While TV can be frivolous, there’s a reason that after a long day of work and after desperately trying to get my child to just eat one pea already!, my husband, visiting in-laws, and I all settle in to rewatch an episode of Mad Men. It helps to unwind. It entertains. And hey, it’s Mad Men — that’s art.

But as I’m sure you’ve noticed over the past almost 10 months, TV isn’t necessarily a priority, and writing about it is even harder to find time for. First, I took a three-month break to care for a newborn (on the bright side, I actually did watch some new things including Project Runway and So You Think You Can Dance, two competition series that have strong followings that I’ve heard about for years; and I even rewatched some old favorites on Netflix, including Scrubs and My Boys). Then, I have posted a smattering of posts that are some combination of reviews and general thoughts on episodes to shows to everything in between (this post falls in that last category). So what’s the deal? Do I just not watch anymore? Is TV not important?

At least for me, certainly not. I’m still watching. I’m fortunate enough to be one of the lucky parents of a child who sleeps. Raked, Jr. is in bed by 7:30 on most nights, which means I’ve still got an entire night of (usually uninterrupted) primetime programming ahead of me. But the way I’m watching has suddenly changed.

As a new mom who is constantly watching, assessing, feeding, carrying, changing, and generally enjoying a child, I have very little energy. While TV used to be something that kept my interests in those few hours between work and sleep — something that could sometimes keep me away from boredom, if it was a good show — now it’s different. I prioritize. I decide. I have only so much time in my day — so why am I watching crap?

I’m much less likely to take a risk on a show. Take, for example, Intelligence. In seeing the ads for the series, I was interested. After all, it has Josh Holloway in it. Sawyer from Lost! It has Meghan Ory, who I’ve enjoyed ever since Higher Ground (can I get an “amen” from my HG fanbase? I know you’re out there…) But my god, people, this show is just awful. The premise is stupid. The characters are stilted and, with the exception of perhaps one of them, unlikable. This is a show that I’d almost want to give a chance, but I just can’t do it. So why do I know anything about this show? Because it’s on after I trek through my shows of choice on a Monday. At that point, I just turn the TV off.

So I’m sticking to old favorites. What else? I’m not tolerating a show that takes too much of my time. If your show regularly steals two hours away from me, I’m not watching. Sure, there may be exceptions, but those are TiVoed and fast-forwarded to the relevant parts (even with So You Think You Can Dance, I passed on all the interviews and personal information about the kids). I just don’t have the time or the energy to sit through that much.

And timing is everything. If you’re on at 10:00, you may not be watched live. I know that’s not unusual for many people who have their Hulu Plus subscriptions or regularly DVR, but for me, I try to watch as much as I can live or at least on the same day. This week, I missed Being Human — and it’s driving me nuts. The only show I’ve really made an exception on is Parenthood, and you can only imagine how tired I am on Friday. I feel like an old woman, but it is what it is.

Finally, I don’t play catchup. I’ve missed two episodes of Hannibal. If I don’t catch up soon, I’m not sure I will. I missed the last five episodes of American Horror Story. They’re still on my TiVo, but this is certainly something I’m not going to toss on while playing with Raked, Jr. in the living room. He’d be scarred for life. My brother keeps telling me that Agents of Shield has gotten better, but at this point, a game of catchup’s not worth it (especially with a show I’ve already turned down once). I’ve tried hopping back into Revenge, but I refuse to play catchup, so I’m just doggie paddling along, wondering who that girl is and who that guy is and, goshdarnit, why is everyone so mad all the time? But you can only imagine what impression I’m being left with when I really don’t know what’s going on.

In the end, TV watching isn’t a spectator sport anymore. It’s choosing what I want to watch, when I want to watch, and how much I really want to give it a chance. Only the best of the best is winning. And while I’m sure my own dilemmas are not the same that other families have when choosing to watch their family programming, it certainly is a shift. But I can’t say it’s all bad. Suddenly, commercials are more entertaining.Jokes are funnier. When Cam and Mitchell bonk Lily’s head on the ceiling and rush her to the doctor on Modern Family, that’s not only highly relatable, but it’s suddenly ponder-able parenting advice (wait — so if it doesn’t hurt me in a life-altering way, perhaps it doesn’t hurt him! Interesting!). There’s a whole ‘nother level of viewing I never knew I was missing.

So managing TV can be a challenge. And maybe I still haven’t conquered finding the time to write. But it’s still worth it when you’ve got the smart True Detectives, the ruthless Game of Throneses, the melodramatic Parenthoods, and the sentimental How I Met Your Mothers to watch (yes, I’m hanging with HIMYM ’til the end). But I’m taking advantage now. Pretty soon, I’m going to be stuck with Disney, Jr. And no one wants to see that.

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Give Me My Comedies Back (And Forget the Stunts)

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I’m sure you all know how frustrated I’ve gotten with television as of late. Not only is there nothing to watch, but when I’m busy, I just don’t want to devote my time to subpar TV. And in recent weeks, I’ve been watching the shows that I enjoy get either pushed to weekend dead-end spots or go gradually down the tubes (take that as a toilet or TV pun — whichever you’d like).

Most recently, I’ve been frustrated with the latest and greatest trend: TV stunts. With sweeps week coming closer and shows desperately trying to grab an audience no matter what, we’re getting pounded with more and more stunts. Consider Community, which used to be my favorite comedy on TV. With its recent puppet/musical episode, it ended up being more painful than entertaining — and ultimately, it felt like the whole purpose of having the puppets in the first place was to advertise them so people would watch. It’s a stunt. And it flunked. I mean, think of other successful episodes of Community that didn’t try stunts. The musical Christmas episode where they were part of the glee club. The one with six different timelines (or was it seven?). They didn’t advertise that they’d be doing these, and heck, they were good. It’s almost as though creativity served the purpose of the show instead of just doing it to grab viewers.

An even more recent example is that of The Office, which has been desperately trying to ignore its downward spiral into oblivion. They’ve recently announced a team — perhaps an entire league — of guest stars for its one-hour season finale. Seems to me that if you’re signing off such a fan favorite, it may make sense to bring back some familiar faces. But bringing on nine additional names for no other purpose than to announce it half a month before the big finale? It all seems like a stunt to me and a desperate plea for attention. I can’t imagine sticking nine unrelated characters into a one-hour finale will really give me any sort of closure I need for the show (though to be fair, my closure came with Pam ran up to Michael Scott and gave him a final hug in the airport).

And really, do we need to emphasize the big stunts? Guest stars are a bane to my existence, especially when it seems like every other episode gets some other familiar face to join the cast. I’m sure Modern Family has had a few, and don’t even get me started on Big Bang Theory. They may use them effectively, but at some point, I just want to know that a show can stand on its own two feet.

And how about advertising a dog as a wingman in a promo for HIMYM? Stupid storyline? Or ridiculous publicity stunt?

Personally, I have the highest respect for those shows that really do want to feature their own cast doing something as simple as acting. Consider Happy Endings and New Girl. True, both have had some guest stars from time to time but for the most part, we’re getting the same group over and over. Of course, take that what you will. Happy Endings is still sitting in a hole, burning off episodes on Friday night. So clearly, stunt-free isn’t being appreciated.

Perhaps I’m just being too harsh. Or perhaps I just expect more from my comedy. What do you think? Are you interested in stunt-free programming? Or does the idea of bright and shiny faces, ridiculous premises, and silly antics grab your attention the way the networks want them to?

There’s Nothing on TV Anymore

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Last night, I had a moment. I realized, I’m not writing anymore. Why am I not writing anymore? I want to — I have some general posts that I want to write about, and heck, I’m long past my window to write about the latest episode of Mad Men. But then again, I feel like I have little time, and it keeps slipping off my radar.

But in talking with JC (who really has been carrying this site over the last couple weeks — thank you!), perhaps there’s another problem looming: There’s nothing on TV anymore. I mean, there is, but the shows are few and far between, and when that happens, I’m left sitting bored on the couch, unable to bring myself to write on something that just doesn’t grab me. Even with Mad Men on Sunday, there was the question of whether it was brilliant or boring, and ultimately, I’m choosing the latter. Sure, it was artsy and had a lot of Don Draper self-reflection, but haven’t we seen that already? Give me something else.

Which is why I found it so funny to stumble upon Alan Sepinwall’s post, “How much good TV is too much?” Now I highly respect Sepinwall, and I agree with many of this issues. It’s hard to find time to watch all the TV you want, especially if you’re me and only get to write on a part-time basis due to real-world priorities. At least he’s had the benefit of owning a DVR for some years (we just got our first TiVo this month), so I’ve had to play the game of priorities for quite a while. And if some new series doesn’t make the cut in the first two episodes — let’s take RevolutionArrow, or as Sepinwall points out, Elementary — I just stop watching. I have to move on to bigger and better things.

But one thing did stop me in my tracks in Sepinwall’s article: good TV? What good TV? I’m finding myself bored and desperate, watching reruns of House Hunters and Income Property during a valued Wednesday or Thursday night because nothing else is on. I don’t watch reality TV and procedurals make me yawn. So what good TV is he talking about?

Ok, sure, there are some. Sunday night are chock full of great material: Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Revenge… In fact, with those three shows alone, I had to cute Revenge from my repertoire just because I couldn’t keep up. The same happened with shows like Dallas, Southland, and other TNT favorites (and let’s just say we’re lucky that Being Human was On Demand for so long or else that would have been an undead casualty). So yes, there are some exceptions, but ultimately, what networks are providing me during the week is lacking. And I’m pretty sure that’s why I end up watching Splash on a Tuesday night — live.

You could argue with me. Of course, there are some shows out there that people love: Big Bang Theory, Castle, Community, Modern Family, American Horror StoryWell, Castle just never grabbed me. American Horror Story had a huge fall from grace for me this season and just wasn’t worth my time. And Big Bang and Modern Family have become dumbed down iterations of themselves (or, in the case of Big Bang, sexed-up versions of themselves, which, sorry, is not real “substance” to me; it’s the same trap Ally McBeal fell into during season three). Even Community, which was one of my favorite series, let me down last night with a stunt puppet episode that had no value (you couldn’t even understand what they were singing), and I was just repeatedly counting down the moments until Parks and Rec started. At least that guaranteed to be entertaining.

And don’t get me started on the shows that I think are completely worthless drivel, with cliched jokes and terrible double entendres: Mike & Molly, Two Broke Girls, or The Neighbors.

And I’m not even saying that every show I watch is great. The Vampire Diaries has major problems — as does How I Met Your Mother — but they have enough standout episodes in a given season that it’s worth coming back to. Oh, and at least in the case of TVD, it actually has entertainment value. Somehow, many shows are missing that.

So yes, it’s hard to keep up, and if you have to keep up with all of them, I can only imagine how tough that is. But as someone spoiled with shows like Buffy, Gilmore Girls, The West Wing, and even the short-lived Studio 60, I just miss quality. I can’t sit here and argue that the airwaves are full of good TV anymore. Something’s just missing.

Does TV Deserve Actor Loyalty? Do Fans?

I’m sure you’re not surprised that I’ve been keeping track of the next — and final — season of One Tree Hill. The series thought last season would be its last (and the finale was certainly set up that way), and the upcoming season is only getting thirteen episodes. They’ve made it clear: This will be its final season.

So much like last season, with Brooke’s wedding, we wonder if fan favorites Chad Michael Murray and Hilarie Burton, who played Lucas and Peyton respectively, will make a final appearance. With Brooke’s wedding, it was a no-go. Well, in the newest of news, Murray has officially signed on to make one more appearance with the show. The word’s still out on Burton, but according to one source, it probably won’t happen.

This really isn’t much of a surprise for me, at least in Burton’s case. Murray didn’t exactly leave the show on great terms, but he’s got nothing going on in his career right now (well, nothing of note, as far as I know). Burton, however, has a child and a bright and shiny role on White Collar. So at least in this TV viewer and reviewer’s head, it means it’s probably harder to get her lined up in an already busy schedule.

But that doesn’t mean the show or the fans won’t hurt for it. Despite the reports that Burton wouldn’t return last season, I still expected her to make a surprise appearance at Brooke’s wedding. Think Jessie at the wedding of Zack and Kelly in Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas. I guess I can understand, but the fan side of me was ultimately disappointed.

So does a show deserve actor loyalty? Commitment to a character that you’ve portrayed for years and years would certainly make you think that someone would have a connection and commitment to see that the character and world at which she lives would get a fair sendoff. But there is one thing we forget sometimes: Acting is a job. True, some jobs may hold a larger connection than others, but it is a job. Should someone rearrange their schedule and do what they can to reappear in a show that they’ve already signed off on? Well, it sounds cold and heartless, but it really all depends. Money, time, role. Sorry, but it’s a business.

But what about the fans? I remember reading an article with Amber Benson (Tara, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) shortly after the seventh season episode “Conversations with Dead People” aired. In case you’re not familiar with the episode, a large chunk involves a recently deceased girl trying to convince Willow to kill herself. Originally, they sought out Benson for the role to reprise Tara, and part of the reason she didn’t appear was because she thought it would be too much for the fans to see Tara as bad. It would destroy the character of Tara to see that she was trying to convince her love to kill herself.

Is it the same? Well, in some way, it is. It’s that loyalty of the fanbase that really took part in the decision. The pendulum could easily swing the other way. Perhaps it was that dedication to the fans that would bring you back to a show for an appearance or two.

Whether that’s really the reason bring Murray back (I doubt it), I don’t know. I doubt many actors make their casting decisions solely for the fans, but it’s nice to know the occasional person does. But either way, the question of loyalty does make you wonder where you should fall on that blurred line between business and personal connection.

For me, well, I don’t blame Burton. She’s a busy girl with a brand-new life, and we waved good-bye to her already. If her appearance would just be for the big finale, perhaps it wouldn’t have been worth it. Would it have made Brooke’s wedding better to have her there? Possibly. But that’s in the past. We’re talking a finale here. No real plot purpose. For the most part, just to get a big splash in publicity. At least, that’s my guess, based on what other shows have done in the past.

So what do you think? Do TV shows deserve loyalty — even after someone has left a show? Does the legacy of character mean anything? And what about the fans? Do their memories and impressions of a character deserve consideration?

Central Time: What the Hell?!

You probably noticed a slight void on Raked for the last few days. And that’s not only because a lot of our summer shows have just finished up their summer season. A good part of that is that I just took a trip (for non-Raked work) to San Antonio. You know, the home of cowboy boots and the Alamo.

Given that it was a work trip, I didn’t have much time to watch TV. For the most part, I was stuck with syndicated reruns of King of Queens, lord help us all. But those times that I could, I did try to get back to my hotel in time to watch some primetime. This all leads me to ask:

How do you central timers do it?!

The central time zone is nothing new to me. I understand that it’s an hour behind, and I’ve seen enough “8/7c” tags to understand that TV is shown at the same time there as it is here, in the eastern time zone, so technically, they’re watching primetime starting at 7:00. But, um, how?!

I mean, first of all, there’s dinner. I was working until about 5:00 every day, and then I’d come back, take a shower (San Antonio is HOT), and then head out for dinner. Well, by the time I sat down, it was about 7:00. Shows have started. Fortunately for me, many of my shows that I wanted to watch over a dull weekend started at 9/8c. Well, this still didn’t help. Sure, on Friday, when I was hauling boxes around an exhibit hall and too tired to find real food, I was tucked into my room watching Say Yes to the Dress at 8:00 on the dot.  But come Sunday, I actually had dinner plans. I completely missed both episodes of Leverage because, well, a girl has got to eat.

Do you all watch TV while eating? Is that what happens?

Ok, let’s say you watch TV when it airs, though. Somehow, you settle in and watch TV at 7:00. Well, my usual 10/9c shows ended at 10:00 central time. Usually, shows that air at 10/9c are my cue to close up the night and get ready to sleep when they’re done. My night was over at 10:00. I was actually asleep by 10:30. Now, don’t get me wrong. This certainly helped me get up for work at 8:00 in the morning, but I felt incredibly lame. I should be doing something. Maybe the central timers all hop in cabs and hit the town? I’m not sure.

What do you do after 10:00?

It was all just so jarring. I’m not sure I could get accustomed to my primetime starting (and ending) early. But I’m curious to hear from some real central timers. Tell me your TV strategy. I want the hidden wisdom.

When Is a “Spoiler” Fair Game?

TV Worth Watching posted a fabulous reaction piece to a complaint that he “spoiled” the end of Dexter season four in a recent NPR airing. His argument is that the episode aired almost two years ago, and the DVD set has been out for almost a year. This has given the community plenty of time to watch the show, and it shouldn’t be considered a “spoiler” anymore.

As a TV blogger, this is often a discussion I have in my own head as I’m writing about shows. What can I reference openly that might “spoil” something for someone who hasn’t seen it? If I compare Jane and Grayson in Drop Dead Diva to Luke and Lorelai from Gilmore Girls and tell you how their relationship played out, is that spoiling it for those of you who haven’t seen Gilmore Girls?

Of course, this an awful example, because Jane and Grayson are nothing like Luke and Lorelai, but let’s take another example. If, based on what I saw in the season finale of Vampire Diaries, I start comparing “evil Stefan” to Angelus of Buffy and Angel fame, am I spoiling anything? We saw that Stefan drank human blood — killed a girl — and we know what Angelus is like. But did I spoil it for those of you who haven’t caught up?

What is the expiration date of a “spoiler”?

In my own opinion, it’s three hours after the episode ended. Keep in mind, I’m in Boston. I’m seeing shows on the East Coast, in EST. The West Coast is three hours behind me, which means if I watch Falling Skies and immediately tweet, “OMG! Mike was just killed!” there’s a good chance that a West Coast fan will get mildly miffed. After all, they haven’t had the opportunity to see the show yet.

But three hours later, they have. And then it’s fair game. I know what you’re thinking: But what about all the people who catch up online? Well, honestly, I don’t care. I’m not heartless. I, too, watch things online. But I also don’t expect other bloggers and other fans to cater to my TV schedule. If I’m not watching it live, I’m missing out. I now need to be aware that other people are discussing the show on Twitter, on blogs, on news outlets, and heck, even on Facebook. If I don’t want to know what happens for a day or two, I need to do my own homework and stay out of the way. At that point, saying “spoiler alert” isn’t appropriate. It’s out there. It’s done. It’s in the past, and you can’t “spoil” the past.

Which brings us to catching up on TV shows. I, myself, am just now watching Mad Men. Started from season one about a month ago. Sure, this could open up an entire can of worms. Many of you readers might be quite annoyed with my take on “spoilers” and might put in the comments fifteen things that spoil my watching. Hey, that’s what I get for not watching it when it was airing. Just like I could have run into any article discussing the newest episode of I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant and have a reference to Peggy Olson in there. That’s my fault, not theirs. It’s fair game.

You can’t write about TV or discuss TV without discussing what’s been done before because most likely, it was done either much better or much worse that what we’re seeing now. We can’t do things on everyone else’s time table. Some of the job of the viewer or fan is to pay attention to their surroundings and accept that you might just find out something because you’re watching things late. Hell, I just found out about a main character being killed off in a series I’ve yet to finish…but there’s nothing I can do about that. I shouldn’t been reading a post called “Shocking TV Deaths.” There’s always a good chance I’ll be spoiled, too.

So give us a break. Perhaps I’m a harsh reviewer for thinking that a three-hour window is all a “spoiler” needs. But if the majority of people have seen it, I’d say it’s fair game. Your thoughts?

Thursday Open Thread: TV Violence

Growing up, I always remember news outlets and parents arguing whether TV violence causes real-life violence. I haven’t heard anything about it lately. Is this still discussed? Or was it resolved? And what’s your view?

Does watching TV violence cause real-life violence, or does TV just depict what’s already out there?

It’s really a chicken-and-the-egg situation, but in my own view, I don’t think that people watch TV violence and assume that it’s ok. I don’t think watching a gang beat up a cop would make someone else think that’s cool.

Sure, there’s some credibility in thinking that certain personas might cause viewer to think, “Wow, they’re tough. I want to be like them,” but to cross that line into actively committing a crime, well, there’s more involved than just TV. I’m thinking how the person was raised, the situation they grew up knowing, general right and wrong messages that were  told to them growing up.

No, I’m not blaming parents, if you’re trying to read into that. It’s more than that. I mean, if I kid grows up in a dangerous environment, watching their brother handle a gun to protect himself, the kid’s probably more likely to do the same, whether or not they’ve seen it on TV. Heck, TV might just show them that the cops are closer than you think.

But then again, would a show like Dexter tell someone that you can do a crime for a good cause and hide it pretty well? There’s always blurred lines. I’d be more interested in whether TV teaches people that drug use and other illegal activity beyond violence was ok, because that certainly seems just as prominent.

That’s just my (foggy) opinion. What’s yours?

Now, violence in toys and games, well, that’s another post entirely.